What If?
by Kayla

Disclaimer: My universe. Mine! ::pouting:: But, Joss' characters. Most of 'em, anyway. :)

Notes: In case you care, I've situated Sunnydale about where Santa Barbara is located. And yes, William is the human version of Spike. :)

"What!" Rupert Giles stared at the phone in shock.

"You heard me, Rupert. I can't take it anymore! He's coming to live with you." Julia's voice sounded tinny over the line, the overseas connection not exactly the best.

"Julia, this isn't really the most opportune time. I am in the process of moving, you know."

"Look, Ru, he's your child too, and..." there was a hitching breath, "I just don't know what to do with him. I can't...I can't deal with this."

"Deal with what? Julia!"

"I put him on the plane this morning, he's scheduled to arrive at the airport in Portland tomorrow afternoon at 2:34." Julia's voice grew softer. "I'm sorry, Rupert. I hate to...foist him off on you like this. I know it's not convenient for you."

Rupert sighed, feeling a headache well up behind his eyes. "Julia...can't you at least tell me why? This is a bit of a shock, you know."

"I-I know. But I can't...I can't talk about it now."

"Great. Bloody great. Julia, I haven't even seen the boy since you took him and left me 8 years ago. We barely know each other! A few letters and the occasional phone call do not a father/son relationship make."

"Look, he needs you, Rupert. He needs his father! I can't be that for him. It's...it's best this way."

Rupert groaned, reaching for a pack of cigarettes. He tapped one out, lighting it up and taking a deep drag on it.

"You're smoking again, aren't you?"

"Bloody hell yes, I'm smoking! What do you expect from me?" Defiantly, he took another drag.

"I thought you quit."

"I did." He inhaled again, then stubbed the remainder out. "Julia, I'm due at my new post in a week. Couldn't this have waited a bit?"

"No!" Julia took a deep breath. "No, it couldn't. I'm sorry, Rupert. Truly I am. Besides, this will work out fine. You can get him enrolled at that school in...where was it you were going again?"

"Sunnydale, Julia. It's in southern California."

"That's right. Sounds like a splendid place, Ru. I'm sure he'll love it there."

"Julia..." Rupert hesitated, then continued, "I don't...I've not had much practice being a father, Jules. I don't know if I can do this."

"Have faith in yourself, Ru. You'll do fine." There was some muffled conversation in the background. "Rupert, I have to go now. I'm late for a meeting. Don't forget, 2:34!"

"Jules, I--" There was a click as the line disconnected. Groaning, Rupert dropped the phone, not bothering to hang it up. "Bugger it all," he muttered, looking around the shambles of his apartment. Packing boxes were stacked along the wall, waiting to be filled with the multitude of books and assorted knick-knacks he'd accumulated over the years of his stay in the states. "Bloody awful timing. Damn it!"

Rupert made his way through the bustle of the airport. "Sorry," he muttered as he bumped into someone. "Oh pardon, do excuse me." He suppressed a snarl of annoyance. Damned bloody Yanks!

Finally, he made it through the crowd, and looked up at the listing of incoming flights. He couldn't hold back a groan when he saw that the flight he was waiting for was due to be about an hour late. He rubbed his temples tiredly. What with scrambling to get most of the packing done, then rushing to make it to the airport on time, he'd managed to build up quite the headache. And now, to top things off, he would be forced to wait in this...madhouse!

Sighing, he once more pressed through the crowd, heading over to the terminal where his son's plane was scheduled to arrive. He dropped down into a chair, staring uninterestedly at a television that he couldn't even hear due to the noise level around him. Still, it was something to do.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the plane arrived. Rupert stood, awaiting his son's exodus from the terminal. When he saw him, though, he stood in shock.

He had pictures, some of them quite recent. But in none of them did the boy look like this!

Quite frankly, the boy looked absolutely...wretched. His light brown hair hung limp and tangled, blue eyes were dim and appeared sunken due to the dark circles under them. Pale, thin form more suitable to a starving waif. He looked like someone's malnourished, abused puppy. One that had been tossed onto the street after being beaten.

Christ, Julia. Why didn't you say anything? Swallowing hard, he stepped forward.

The young man looked up, eyes flickering slightly in recognition. He gave a polite nod. "Da," he acknowledged rather impersonally.

Rupert nodded back. "W-William." There was an awkward pause, then he cleared his throat. "Well, best pick up your luggage, then."

"Well, this is it. For the next few days, anyway. Sorry about the clutter." Rupert motioned for William to enter, and the boy did so, glancing around with only mild curiosity. "I suppose you can store your luggage out here; it would be rather pointless to unpack anything but the essentials."

William shrugged and hauled one of his bags across the room, dumping it unceremoniously against the wall. Rupert followed suit with the two smaller bags that he was carrying.

Rupert frowned at what really was a small amount of belongings for a sixteen year-old boy relocating to a new country. "Are these all your things?" he asked.

William settled himself into an armchair, curling his legs up under him. "Most of it," he answered briefly. "Mum..." he paused, jaw clenching. "Mum said she'd send the rest once I 'get settled'." He sneered as he mimicked her words.

"I see." He sighed. "Do you...want to talk about it?"

"No." William glowered at him, crossing his arms defiantly.

"Ah. All right then." Rupert nodded. "Well, I believe there's still a bit of food left in the kitchen, you're welcome to make yourself some tea if you wish. I just need to make a few calls." He walked slowly into his bedroom, fighting the urge to make a hasty escape. He closed the door an, picking up the phone, dialed a number that had become familiar with him over the last few weeks.

After a lengthy conversation with the manager at the apartment complex that he was moving to, he was able to change his lease to cover a two-bedroom place instead of the single bedroom apartment he'd originally signed for. The rent increase wasn't too terribly high, which was a relief, but thing were most likely going to be a bit more cramped than he'd planned.

Having completed his call, he left the bedroom, walking out to find William sitting at the table eating a bowl of tomato soup. The boy looked up as he approached.

"I, um, thought I'd get something to eat," he told Rupert quietly.

"Sensible idea. I'll join you." He fetched himself a bowl and filled it with the remainder of the soup. As he ate, he observed his son curiously. The boy looked positively exhausted, an impression emphasized by the giant yawn he was unable to hold back.

Rupert cleared his throat. "I'm sure the flight tired you out. Why don't you have a nap in the bedroom while I get back to packing up out here."

William nodded, picking up his now empty bowl and carrying it over to the sink. Yawning again, he shuffled into the other room.

Rupert shook his head. Finishing his own soup, he sighed and got back to packing.

William flung himself onto the couch with a tired groan. His father joined him, handing him a steaming cup of tea. "Thanks."

Rupert nodded. "I must say, I forgot how tedious this moving business was. You were a great deal of help getting everything in here, William."

William blushed, looking at the floor.

Smiling, Rupert looked around his -- their new apartment. It had taken the better part of two days to get everything carried in, unpacked, and arranged satisfactorily. He'd also arranged to have another bed delivered for William's room, since he only had the one, and wasn't about to spend another night on the couch. "Well, we have almost a week before the school year starts. I suppose we'd best go in tomorrow to get you enrolled."

"Oh. Yeah." William didn't appear to be too enthusiastic about this. The prospect of starting over in a new school, where he didn't know anyone, was daunting. And if anyone ever found out about...


He glanced back up at his father. "Yeah?"

"Your mother never mentioned exactly why she felt it best for you to come live with me. Did you want to talk about it yet?"

His face immediately closed off. "No," he replied bluntly.

"Ah. Well, then." He sat there uncomfortably, sipping his tea.

After a moment, William relented with a sigh. "Look, Da...it's just...I don't want to talk about it now, ok?"

"Of course. But William? Whenever you feel comfortable, I'm here to listen. I won't judge."

William snorted. He shifted on the couch, finally jumping to his feet. "I'm...I'm going to go to bed now. I'm still really tired."

Rupert nodded, and watched his son move quickly to his bedroom, closing the door firmly behind him. "What happened, William?" he whispered sadly.

"Just meet me in the library after classes, all right?"

William nodded, then watched his father make his way through the bustle of people into the school. He stared down at the class schedule in his hand as he began to walk determinedly through the crowded halls. Not looking where he was going, he bumped into another student walking by, and his armload of books went cascading to the floor. He stammered out an apology to the girl, who shot him a dirty look before continuing on her way. With a sigh, William bent to gather his things.

A broad hand entered the scope of his vision, picking up one of his folders and handing it back. William took it gratefully, tilting his head up to thank his benefactor. He froze, tongue-tied.

"Got it? Hey, you're new here, aren't you? I'm Xander."

William gulped, staring fixedly at Xander as the other boy continued to hand him his scattered belongings.

"Hello? Anyone there?" Xander felt a twinge of worry as he received only a blank stare. He waved a hand in front of glazed eyes.

William blinked, then blushed furiously, wrenching his eyes away from Xander's face to stare at the floor as he fumbled around for the rest of his things. "Um, I'm W-William," he finally answered.

Xander grinned. "Cool accent."

They stood, and William fidgeted nervously as he avoided meeting Xander's gaze.

"Hey, need any help finding your classes? You look kinda lost."

"Oh, I...um, I was..."

"Here." Xander deftly plucked away William's schedule, scanning it. 'First period, History, room 126. That's just down the hall." He handed the schedule back, laying a hand on William's arm and guiding him to the right classroom. With another wide grin, he said, "Here you go. Good luck!"

William watched as Xander moved away, trying to get his breathing back under control. He looked down at his arm, which still burned with the impression of Xander's hand. He closed his eyes. Not again. Don't let this be happening again.

His eyes popped open again at the sound of a throat being cleared beside him. He flushed as he realized he was standing in the middle of the doorway, blocking it quite effectively. Quickly, he went inside, making his way over to an empty seat.

The bell for the end of class rang. While other students laughed and chatted with their friends as they exited, William quietly gathered his books together.

"Hi, you're new, aren't you?" came a bubbly voice next to him. "I'm Cordelia Chase." A slim hand was held out to him.

William took it hesitantly, giving it a quick shake. "William Giles," he answered.

"Oh, wow, you've got an accent! That is so cool! Where are you from?" Cordelia walked in step with him as he left the room.


"You know, I've always thought accents were sexy." She batted her eyelashes at William, who remained oblivious to her flirting. She frowned, but shrugged. "Well, the important thing to remember about coming to school here is, you gotta hang with the right people. You stick with me, and I can get you into the cool crowd. Otherwise, you might end up with the losers." Her smile became predatory. "Speaking of losers..."

William gave a small smile to the girl at the water fountain. It disappeared, though, as he listened to what Cordelia was saying.

"Willow. Nice dress! It's good to know you've seen the softer side of Sears." All this was said with the same smile plastered on her face.

William looked at Cordelia, confused.

Willow took a step back, glancing down at her dress. "Uh, we-well, my mom picked it out," she said timidly.

"No wonder you're such a guy magnet." Her expression turned nasty. "Are you done?"

Willow looked at the water fountain, then back at Cordelia. "Oh." She backed up, turning and hurrying away.

William frowned as he watched her go.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, turning to face William. "You wanna fit in here, the first rule is: know your losers. Once you can identify them all by sight, they're a lot easier to avoid," she said with a laugh.

William just stared at her, not quite believing what had happened. He shook his head. "Um, I...I have to be going. I don't want to be late."

"Oh. Sure. Maybe I'll see you at lunch then." Cordelia sighed as she watched him walk off, a dreamy expression on her face.

It was finally luchtime, and William made his way out to the courtyard. He spotted the girl from the fountain sitting nearby, and made his way over to her. "Um, hi. Willow, right?"

She looked up from her lunch, startled. "Why? I-I mean, hi. Uh, did you want me to move?"

"What? Oh, no." He moved around to the other side of her, sitting down. "I'm William, by the way."

"Hey, William."

"Actually, I was wondering if you might be able to help me with a few subjects. I'm not familiar with some of this, and I heard that you were the one to ask for help. For tutoring."

Willow brightened noticeably. "Oh, I could totally help you out. Like, if you have sixth period free, we could meet in the library."

"Ah." He looked away, uncomfortable.

"Is that not good? There's a new librarian this year, and he won't mind. He's really cool. I heard he used to be a curator at some British museum." She paused. "Or the British Museum, I'm not sure." She continued cheerfully, "But he knows everything, and he brought all these historical volumes and biographies, and am I the single dullest person alive?" She bit her lip.

"Oh, no. Not at all. I just...I already knew that."


"Um, yes. He's...well, he's my father."

Willow blinked. "Oh." Cocking her head, she said thoughtfully, "I guess that makes sense. You're both English, and new, and--"

"Hey, you guys busy? Are we interrupting? We're interrupting."

William caught his breath as the boy from earlier -- Xander -- hopped over the ledge to sit between him and Willow. He barely even noticed the other person who joined them.

"William, this is Jesse and that's Xander."

Xander smiled. "Aw, me and William go way back. Old friends, very close."

William tried not to imagine being 'very close' to Xander, forcing himself to focus. "Um, it's, uh, it's nice to meet you."

Jesse sat. "You know, we wanted to welcome you, make you feel at home...unless you have a scary home."

William sat there, bemused.

Xander leaned in closer. "So, tell us about yourself. What do you do for fun?"

Jesse broke in, "Do you have any dark, painful secrets you'd like us to publish?"

William could almost feel the blood drain from his face. "Um...no. Nothing very interesting at all. Really."

Rupert looked up from his books. "Ah, William, you're early. Done already?"

William shook his head. "No Da, I have this period free, I'm meeting someone here to study. Willow."

"Willow. Yes, delightful girl. Quite intelligent too, so I've heard." He smiled at his son fondly. "Do I detect a bit of interest, here?"

William's face closed off. "No." He frowned, stepping away from his father.

Rupert blinked. "Oh. Well, I didn't mean to offend you. I simply thought that you might appreciate a bit of privacy."

"And why would you think that?" William asked harshly, eyes narrowed. "You don't know anything about me."

"Well it's certainly not for lack of trying on my part. You can be remarkably uncommunicative when it suits you." Rupert couldn't fathom what had gotten the boy so worked up.

"What do you want me to tell you?" William hissed angrily. "You want to hear all my deep, dark secrets? Want to know all about why I don't want 'a bit of privacy' with Willow? With any girl?" He panted, fingers clenched hard on the books in his hands. "Shall I tell you about how I'd rather dream of all the cute boys I've seen today? Is that what you want to hear? That your son fancies blokes?" He snorted. "Why the bloody hell do you think Mum washed her hands of me?!" He slammed his books down and spun around, stalking out of the library.

Rupert stood there for a moment, astounded. Shaking himself, he hurried after his son. "William..."

As the doors swung shut, Xander crept out from between some stacks of books. He stared at the door, eyes wide. "Woah," he whispered.

William sat on the couch, bouncing his leg nervously. He knew he was in trouble. Besides the fact that he'd sworn at his father, he'd also ditched the rest of school, hurrying back to the apartment before he managed to break down and start bawling in public.

Oh yeah. He was in trouble. He just hoped his father wasn't the type to get too 'physical' with his punishments. Although, his mother did seem to be drawn to that sort of man...

He gulped hard as he heard the doorknob turn, cringing down into his seat. He would have hidden out in his room, but experience told him that doing so usually only got him in even more trouble.

With a weary slump to his shoulders, Rupert entered his apartment. He hadn't been able to catch up with William after the boy's...announcement and subsequent departure from school grounds, and had been forced to return to the library for the remainder of the school day. He could only hope William had decided to come home instead of running off somewhere.

He glanced around, briefly closing his eyes in relief when he saw a tuft of hair peeking up over the top of the sofa. He straightened, calmly making his way across the room, were he set his briefcase down on the floor. He stared at William for a long moment, not saying a word.

William slouched down even further under the weight of his father's stare. He brought his knees up, wrapping his arms around them and partially hiding his face. He refused to look up.

Rupert sat at the other end of the sofa, steepling his fingers together in front of his face as he calmly regarded his son. "Well," he began softly, "I really do think we should talk now."

William ducked his head down even more, tousled hair hiding his face from view. "I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely.

Sighing, Rupert reached out to brush the hair away from William's face, freezing when the boy flinched violently away from him. "I'm not going to hurt you," he assured the boy in a soft tone before gently completing the movement, exposing William's pale face. "William...talk to me. Please."

Sniffling, William shrugged slightly. "'Bout what?" he muttered.

Rupert smiled. "I don't know. How about your mother? Or if you'd rather, what about how your classes went." He chuckled lightly. "Maybe you'd like to tell me about all the cute boys you met today." He had certainly been surprised, to say the least, by the revelation of his son's...inclinations. But he wasn't about to let a thing like that interfere with his relationship with the boy.

William flushed. "I...I didn't mean..." He sniffled some more as tears welled up in his eyes. "I can't help it," he told Rupert in a broken voice. "I-I try not to, but I can't..." He gasped in a lungful of air. "And Mum, she found out, and went off her rocker, and I wasn't even doing anything. We just kissed a little because I wanted to try it, and he was really cute and he liked me, and then she saw us, and-and..." He swiped a hand across his runny nose. "I just..." His voice was a mere whisper, laced through with dejection. "I didn't want you to hate me too, Da."

Determinedly, Rupert scooted closer to William, pulling the unresisting boy into his lap, arms wrapped firmly around him. "I don't hate you, William. Nothing you could ever do would make me hate you."

William relaxed against him, burrowing his face into the fabric of his coat. "You're not...disgusted? That I'm q-queer?"

"Your...your sexual preferences, whatever they may be, have no bearing on how I feel about you. I may not have a lot of expertise in parenting, but I'm certainly not going to-to put conditions on my love for you."

"You...love me?"

Rupert snorted. "Of course I do. And I won't have you talking about yourself like there's something wrong with you, understood?"

William nodded, smiling tremulously. "Yes, sir."

"Good. I'm glad we have that settled." He continued to hold his son, rocking ever so slightly. After a moment, he tilted William's face up, wiping at his tear-stained cheeks. "So," he said with a smile. "What's all this about cute boys?"

Lunchtime again. William sighed in relief, glad for the break from classes. It was only his second day here, and it was lasting a lifetime. At least he felt somewhat more comfortable around his father, now that his big secret was out. He couldn't believe how calm and understanding Rupert had been, especially since his mother had ranted, raved, and practically disowned him when she'd walked in while he and Brian were...experimenting. It's not like they'd even had any clothes off or anything!


His head jerked around, and he saw Willow waving at him, smiling cheerfully. With a matching grin, he made his way over to her, pulling out his lunch as he sat down. "Willow. Um, sorry about yesterday, I--"

"Oh, no problem. Mr. Giles...I mean, your dad, he said you went home early 'cause you weren't feeling well. That's totally understandable. We can make up for it today...I mean, if that's good for you. Is that good for you?"

"That's fine. Thanks." There was something about Willow's perky babbling that drew him in, making him feel at ease. His eyes sparkled happily as he watched her gesture emphatically as she spoke. Once he realized that she didn't even really need a response, he took a bite of his sandwich, nodding as he listened intently.

"Hey, and we meet again!" Jesse jogged up to them, flopping down into an empty seat. "Oh god, you will never believe it. She talked to me. Cordelia actually talked to me!" He sighed, a dreamy smile fixed on his face.

"I don't think 'You're standing in front of my locker, loser' actually counts as conversation, man." Xander joined them, ducking the swat Jesse aimed his way. "Hey guys," he said to the others.

William swallowed his mouthful of food hastily. "H-hi Xander," he replied, a slight flush staining his cheeks. He ignored the strange look Xander gave him, fixing his gaze on the remainder of his sandwich.

Xander shook himself. "So, who's up for a night at the Bronze?"

"Bronze?" William looked up at him questioningly. Oh god, he's got such beautiful eyes...

Xander blinked, momentarily frozen by the clear blue eyes that seemed to gaze at him...adoringly? He looked away, clearing his throat. "Y-yeah. Um, it's uh, it's a club across town. The club. It's pretty cool."

"Yeah, they've got great music."

"I'm up for it." Willow brushed her hair behind her ears, grinning at William. "So? Gonna join us?"

"Oh. Well, I'll have to ask my father, but...it's sounds like fun." He peeked over at Xander from beneath his bangs.

Xander swallowed. "Well, on that note, there's, uh, this...thing that I'm...supposed to be doing. So...catch you later!" He stood, quickly making his way back into the building, oblivious to the startled looks his hasty exit prompted. He was too caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts.

He was looking at me. Not, like, normal looking. Like, the way Jesse looks at Cordelia. And he's gay. And he keeps watching me. And he's gay. And he's always blushing when I'm around. And he's gay. He leaned against a wall, dragging in deep, calming breaths.

Chill out, Xand-man. You're probably just imagining things. And so what if he was checking you out? You're a very handsome guy, totally worth checking out. It's not like he's gonna jump you. Xander frowned. I don't think. He shrugged. Besides, if he were a girl, I'd definitely be doing some checking out in return. He's got great eyes. And those pouty lips that girls would kill for. And the cutest ass, all tight and curvy and--Ah! I was not looking at his ass! He banged his head back against the wall.

I am so not thinking about a guy's ass. Oh god, what's wrong with me? He let out a tiny whimper. Control, Xander. Get yourself under control. Girls. Soft, bouncy, gropable girls. And breasts! You like breasts, don't you? He straightened, scolding himself harshly. No more checking out of male anatomy. Even if you do want to find out just how soft his hair really is. He smacked himself, drawing several odd glances from nearby students.

Chuckling nervously, he resumed his trek down the halls. Girls. Lots and lots of girls...

William paced his room, waiting for his father to get home from the meeting he'd gone to after school. He really wanted to go to that club with Willow and the others, but knew he'd need to get permission first. He hoped Rupert didn't have any sort of objections to this sort of thing. His mother would never allow him to do something so crass as visit one of those 'breeding grounds for trouble' as she so eloquently put it. No, her son had to stay firmly ensconced at home studying, so he could keep his grades up, get into Oxford, become a raging success in his field of study, then eventually settle down with a girl she picked out for him and raise a set of lovely, perfect children that would be a credit to their bloodlines.

Guess my being a poof rather cut into those plans, didn't it? He smiled humorlessly, still able to hear his mother's screech of absolute outrage and horror when she'd walked in on him and Brian. Not that the sounds we made were exactly manly. Best classified as shrieks, I'd imagine.

Still, his father seemed to be a fairly easy-going type of person. And he was making an effort to befriend his estranged child, so he probably wouldn't choose this moment to go all domineering and strict on him Probably.

Hearing his father finally arrive, William took a deep breath to compose himself. Leaving his room, he quietly made his way out into the living room. "Da, I was..." His voice trailed off when he saw that no one was there. "Da?"

Rupert stuck his head out of his bedroom. "I'm sorry, did you call me?"

"Yeah, I um..." William glanced down at the floor. "I wanted to ask you something."

"Oh, well all right. Just give me a moment to change and I'll be right out."

"Sure." William groaned as his father disappeared again. He sank down onto the sofa, head in hands. "Just bloody well ask him, you ponce. The worst that could happen is he says no." He waited nervously for a few more minutes until Rupert came back out.

Rupert examined his jittery son, hiding an amused grin. "Now," he said, making William jump slightly, "you wanted to speak with me about something?"

William nodded. "Oh, yes, I uh..." he trailed off.

With a wry shake of his head, Rupert went into the kitchen. "Why don't you help me make dinner while we talk?" he suggested.

William stood hastily, following his father. "What are we having tonight?"

Rupert's voice was muffled by the refrigerator door when he answered. "Well, I thought we'd do a terribly American thing and have -- ah-hah!" He emerged, brandishing a package of ground beef. "Hamburgers!" He moved to the stove, tearing open the plastic wrap and forming patties. "Could you get the skillet? It's in that cabinet down there."

William carefully eased his way past Rupert and found the skillet, setting it on the stove. The burgers were soon sizzling merrily, and Rupert turned his attention back to William. The boy in question busied himself with opening the package of buns he'd retrieved from the breadbox. "Da? I was wondering...could I, um, go out with some people to a club tonight?"

"Tonight? Well, there is school in the morning, and..." Rupert saw how William's face fell in disappointment, and continued, "and I suppose if you don't stay out too terribly late, and have your homework finished before you go, then it would be all right."

William blinked, then turned to stare at his father. "Y-You mean it? I can go?"

"Certainly. Just try not to get into too much trouble, all right?" He smiled gently. "I'm joking."

"Oh." William gave Rupert a hesitant grin that soon stretched across his face. "Thanks, Da," he said softly.

Rupert reached out and gave William a one-armed hug, then cleared his throat. "Get the plates, why don't you," he said in a gruff voice.

At the table, Rupert watched in amusement as William tried to eat his burger neatly. It was doomed to failure, however, what with the ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and tomato slices adorning it.

Finally, William gave it up, contenting himself with not making too much of a spectacle of himself.

"So, who are you going to be going with?"

William swallowed, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "Um, well I'm going to meet Willow and a couple of friends of hers. Um, Jesse and X-Xander."

Rupert raised an eyebrow as William stumbled over that name, his cheeks picking up a deep red hue. "I see." He watched as William ducked his head down, intently examining his dinner. "Ah yes, Xander. I do believe I've seen him; he has the distinction of being one of the few students who has actually used the library on occasion." A bite of food, slowly chewed and swallowed, then, mischievously, "So, is he one of the 'cute boys' you mentioned?"

William choked on his mouthful, grabbing frantically for his glass of milk. He gulped it down, avoiding his father's knowing stare. When he'd regained a small part of his composure, he peeked up. With a tiny, bashful smile, he said quietly, "He is rather...pleasant looking."

Rupert chuckled. "Well, I'm sure you'll have a very enjoyable evening."

William just smiled dreamily as he finished his burger, mentally counting down the minutes until he'd see Xander at the Bronze.

William walked through the noisy, crowded club, doing his best not to jostle too many people. He scanned the floor, relieved when he saw Willow sitting in a stool at the bar. He carefully made his way over.

Willow looked up from her drink, a huge smile appearing on her face. "William! You made it!"

Taking a seat next to her, William smiled back. "Yeah, Da said it was fine as long as I don't stay out too late."

"Cool." She bounced in her seat as she spoke. "Hey, want somethin' to drink? Lots of sugary, caffeine goodness, great for the soul." She waggled her own soda at him coaxingly.

William quirked an eyebrow, refraining from pointing out that she seemed to have consumed enough caffeine for the both of them. Instead, he just nodded, and was soon served with a drink of his own.

William watched him sit, absently sipping at her drink while she nibbled at some peanuts from a bowl on the counter. "Anyway, Xander should be here soon." Her face softened as she said his name.

William noticed, and felt a pang deep inside. He tried to hold back a look of despair as he asked, "So...you and Xander. You're...together? Like, dating?" Of course they are. He's a gorgeous, funny guy; why wouldn't he be with a great girl like Willow? What, you thought he might be waiting for you or something? Git. He was so caught up in remonstrating himself that he almost missed Willow's response.

Willow shook her head. "Oh no, we're just friends. We used to go out, but...we broke up."

William blinked. "Oh. Um...why?"

Seriously, Willow answered, "He stole my Barbie." At his incredulous expression, she giggled. "We were five," she explained.

Letting out a breath that was pure relief, William nodded in understanding. "Oh."

"I-I don't actually date a whole lot...lately." She shrugged, trying not to seem too upset by that, but her casual attitude was a bit forced.

William scooted his stool closer. "Why not?"

Willow blushed a little. "Well, when I'm with a boy I like," she told him, "it's hard for me to say anything cool, or-or witty, or at all." A bashful grin. "I-I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and then I have to go away."

Snorting softly, William mumbled under his breath, "I know how that is."


William cleared his throat. "Oh, I uh, um...it can't be that bad."

Nodding, Willow gazed at him earnestly. "No, it is. I think boys are more interested in a girl who can talk."

He smiled at her. "I think you can talk just fine," he informed her definitively. "You have a lovely voice, and you're quite intelligent, too."

Willow laughed and punched him lightly on the arm. "Well hey, you're pretty smart yourself. Just...gotta get the hang of Americanized stuff." She shrugged. "Besides, the whole dating thing? It's probably easier for you...since you're a guy and all."

William glanced down at his drink uncomfortably. "Yeah. Really easy."

"I mean, sure you seem a little shy. But you are kinda cute, and with the accent and everything, you'll probably have lots of girls after you." She perked up. "Cordelia seemed to like you a lot." Then her face fell. "Um, not...that that's necessarily a good thing."

William gave a shy grin. "I wouldn't want to steal her away from Jesse, after all."

Willow clapped a hand over her mouth as she burst into a fit of giggles.

"And how's my Wills tonight?" Xander came up behind Willow, slipping an arm around her shoulders to give her a hug.

William caught his breath. Briefly, he imagined that Xander was speaking to him, calling him that name in his husky voice. He sighed then, letting his eyes surreptitiously travel down the length of Xander's body.

Xander released Willow, peering out the corner of his eye at William. Is he staring at me? Oh god, he's staring at me, isn't he? Nervous, he took the Willow method of defense -- random babble. "Hey Will, how's it hangin'--er, goin'? Oh wow, wouldja look at that. Will and Wills; two of you! You don't mind if I call you Will, do you? Because I can stop if you don't like it or something. That's cool with me. And look, you guys have drinks! I'm thirsty too. I'm getting a drink. You want anything? No? Be right back." He hurried off in search of the elusive beverage.

William stared after him, baffled. He glanced back at Willow. "Does he do that a lot?"

Willow's forehead wrinkled. "Usually only when he's really nervous or upset, but I don't know what could have happened to get him in a mood like that. Huh." Then she winced.

"What?" He twisted in his seat to see what Willow was staring at.

Willow sucked a breath in as the scene unfolded. Jesse walking confidently -- for him -- up to Cordelia, presumably to ask her to dance. Being shot down rather brutally. "Ouch." Willow nibbled her lip, aching for her friend as she saw him staring forlornly after Miss Popularity when she flounced away with her groupies. "Poor Jesse." She nodded, determination written on her face. "This calls for chocolate. And maybe some judicious brainwashing. But definitely some chocolate." Standing, she looked over at William. "Be back in a sec. Don't panic, I can see Xander on his way back here now." She gave him another smile, then headed off to drag Jesse out of his wallowing.

William forced himself not to turn and look as Xander moved toward him. He gulped about half his drink, trying to quell the flock of butterflies that seemed to have taken residence in his stomach.

"Back again. Man, good drinks are hard to find around here." Xander chuckled as he stood next to Willow's vacated seat. "Hey, where'd she go?"

William pointed to where Willow had dragged Jesse over to an empty chair, seating him and plying him with chocolate obtained from questionable sources.

"Oh. Run-in with Cordy?" Xander shook his head, tsking. "Guy has seriously got to get past this phase before he ends up permanently traumatized by rejection."

William frowned slightly. "Why?" He flushed as Xander stared at him. "I-I mean, don't you think that...maybe, well, opposites could attract?"

"Not that opposite. She's evil, I tell you."

William stared at his hands, clutched around his glass. "You can't help who y-you're attracted to," he whispered. He felt his cheeks grow even warmer with the weight of Xander's eyes on him.

"Um, no. I...guess not." He stared at William, transfixed. He looks so cute all red and embarrassed like that. Embarrassed. Bare-assed. I wonder--ack! Now it was Xander's turn to blush as he frantically drank down his soda. Weakly, he took Willow's seat, determined to get his brain firmly under control.

William trudged tiredly into the apartment. He mumbled a greeting to his father, who was sitting nonchalantly on the couch reading in an attempt to make it appear as if he weren't waiting up for his son. William just stumbled past him into his room and collapsed onto the bed. He managed to kick off his shoes and squirm out of most of his clothes, wriggling his way under the covers.

He yawned. It had been a pretty decent night. He didn't think he'd made too much of an idiot of himself in front of Xander, and once Willow had plied Jesse with liberal amounts of chocolate and dragged him back to some semblance of happiness, they'd all had a blast just talking and taking turns dancing. With Willow, of course. It was still fun, though. And William tried not to imagine what it would be like to have Xander dancing with him, brushing up against him as they moved.

Curling around his pillow, William fell asleep with a smile on his face.

William tossed and turned in his bed, punching his pillows in frustration. He looked up as the door opened.

"Trouble sleeping?" Rupert asked.

William sighed and nodded.

Rupert walked over, sitting on the edge of his bed. He reached out a hand to push the hair away from William's face. "Shhh. Just close your eyes. Relax."

William sighed and did as he was told, sinking down into the mattress. Warm lips brushed lightly across his forehead as fingers continued to comb gently through his hair. Then a mouth pressed against his own, tongue snaking out to trail over his lips.

William's eyes flew open, and he stare up in amazement at Xander, who loomed over him wearing nothing but a goofy grin.

"I know how to relax you," he whispered, bending down for another kiss.

William moaned, letting his mouth fall open to admit the questing tongue. He reached up to tangle his hands in Xander's hair, pulling the other boy down on top of him.

Remainder of dream sequence is NC-17 and therefore censored.

Waking, William blinked, eyeing the fuzzy room in confusion. He stretched and sat up, growing stiff at the odd sensation surrounding his groin. In trepidation, he lifted the covers, letting out a mortified groan when he saw his underclothes plastered to his genitals, dried semen flaking off the fabric.

Blushing furiously, he leapt out of bed, tugging the soiled garment off and bundling it up before stuffing it under a few other dirty items in his clothes hamper. God, I can't believe I just did that! He hastily donned some fresh clothes before hurrying to the bathroom, where he proceeded to shower and remove any trace of his...indiscretion. This is so bloody embarrassing! Oh dear lord, don't let Da find out about this. He seriously considered volunteering to do the next load of wash just to make sure Rupert didn't discover the glaring evidence of such an intensely private and potentially humiliating incident.

But...he could still feel those strong hands skimming over his body, the heated torso sliding against his, the taut, firm muscles that his own fingers had caressed. And mostly, the thick, hard length of the other boy shoved up against him, branding him with its trail of fluid...

Ruthlessly, William turned off the warm water, gasping as he was doused with the resulting icy stream. He glowered down at his erection, which slowly shriveled. Stop thinking about it! He repeated that over and over as he finished his shower and raced back to his room.

Rubbing at the gooseflesh that covered him now, he slowly dressed for school. He wondered how he was going to make it through breakfast having to stare across the table at his father, while inside, he just wanted to crawl back into bed and try for another dream.

William frowned as he walked past group after group of people huddled together, whispering furiously. Distracted, he bumped into someone, spilling his things. With a sigh, he knelt to collect them.

"We gotta stop meeting like this." Xander grinned as he handed William a book, then blinked in confusion as the other boy turned beet red, not meeting his eyes as he took the item back. Then he shrugged and helped William finish. "Hey, did you hear?"

William shook his head, a lock of hair falling over his forehead to obscure his eyes. "Hear what?"

Xander gulped, eyes wide. He slowly reached a hand out to the bit of hair, itching to brush it away and reveal luminous blue eyes once more. He snatched it back unnoticed, however, when he heard Willow and Jesse coming up behind him, chattering non-stop.

Willow latched onto Xander's arm. "Did you guys hear? It's awful. One of the girls found a body stuffed in her locker!"

William inhaled sharply. "A b-body? A dead one?"

Jesse nodded excitedly. "As a doornail. Cool, huh?"

Willow smacked his arm. "It's not cool, it's awful! How would you like to be killed and stuffed in a locker?"

Grinning, Jesse replied, "Well, it was in the girls locker room...Ow!" He rubbed at his arm. "Watch it, I bruise easily!"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Anyway, all the gym classes today are canceled, so I'm gonna spend that period studying in the library. Anyone wanna join me?"

Xander chuckled and made a little cross with his fingers. "Back! Back evil fiend! Tempt me not with your heinous ways!"

William giggled softly at Xander's antics, earning him a wide grin from the other boy. It was almost like the grin Xander had given him in that dream, right before...

"Are you ok?" Jesse stared in fascination as William again acquired a deep red hue.

"Hey, leave him alone. It's seriously wiggy to have dead people popping out of lockers, you know. It probably didn't happen to him much back in England." Willow slung an arm around Williams's shoulders, shooting Jesse a glare for his insensitivity.

Xander stroked his chin, deep in thought. "You know, actually, it's rather disturbing how often stuff like that seems to happen around here--Ow!" Now it was his turn to rub his arm and shoot Willow a dirty look.

"You're gonna scare him off. Stop it!" To William, she said, "Ignore them, they tend to talk before they think...or talk instead of thinking."

Xander gasped, clutching at his chest. "Oh, you wound me!"

Jesse followed suit, swooning dramatically. "Cruel, cruel wench!" he cried, a hand slung over his forehead.

Willow sniffed haughtily and, nose in the air, proceeded to drag William down the hall with her, away from the insanely laughing duo.

"So, does that really happen a lot?"

Willow glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes. "What, them acting like total dimwits? Frequently." She giggled.

"Um, that too. Actually, I meant about the bodies. You...get a lot of that?" William held the library door open for her, motioning her to go ahead of him.

"Thanks." She blew a strand of hair out of her face. "Well, kinda. I mean, people tend not to dwell on it too much, but...weird things happen here. Not just here at school, that's a given. But...Sunnydale has its seamier side."

"That's not exactly what one wants to hear about the town one has just moved to."

"Yeah, I can imagine it's not very reassuring." She set her books down on a table. "Hi Mr. Giles!" she called.

Rupert's head popped out from behind a row of books. "Ah, hello Ms. Rosenberg. What brings you here so early?"

Willow shrugged. "Dead body. Gym canceled. Free period. Studying."

Rupert blinked. "I...see. Ah, William, hello," he greeted his son with a soft smile.

"Hi, Da," William responded.

"Well, I'll let you two get back to your studying while I finish shelving these books." He cleared his throat, then disappeared into the stacks once more.

Willow sighed as Rupert left. "Your dad is so cool," she told William. "He's not all nosy and in your face. I mean, it must be pretty weird to have your dad working where you go to school." She blushed a little. "He's not that bad looking, either."

William choked, then went into a fit of coughing. When he recovered, he gaped at Willow. "You're...you're not serious!"

"What? He's pretty decent for an older guy."

"He's my father!"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Well, it's not like I'm planning on dating him or something. I was just saying..."

"Don't...please." He shuddered, ignoring Willow's giggles. "Books. Study. No talking about...that. Or thinking. Or ever, ever bringing it up again."

Willow shook her head, a huge grin on her face. "Fine," she conceded with a sigh. "You're such a baby."

William stuck his tongue out at her, pulling back sharply when she made a grab for it.

"Watch it, buster," she warned with a mock glare.

"I'm going now, Da." William walked past Rupert on his way to the door.

"Is your homework finished?"

"Da!" he protested. "It's Friday, I have all weekend to do that!"

"Well, there's no sense in leaving it for the last minute." Rupert glanced at his pouting son, and grinned. "I'm joking, William. Go. Have fun. Don't see anything too scary."

William smiled back and gave him a wave goodbye before slipping out the door.

William met Willow on the way to the theater, and they walked together. "What are we going to see?"

Willow shrugged. "Jesse and Xander will probably want something awful and bloody. I'm pushing for sweet and romantic. We'll probably compromise and see something funny instead."

William blinked. "That's an...odd compromise."

"Oh, not for us. Trust me. You haven't even seen odd."

Smiling, he asked playfully, "Should I be scared?"

"Oh, petrified." She bounced as they neared the theater. "Oh look! There they are!" She dragged William with her as she hurried over to the other boys.

Willow's prediction proved to be true. After a friendly debate over the merits of gory horror versus sappy romance, they came to the decision that comedy was the way to go. They managed to purchase their tickets, raid the snack bar, and make it into the auditorium where their movie was playing just as the previews started.

Xander and Jesse immediately headed for the front row, but Willow hung back. "Oh, come on guys!" she hissed. "You always make me sit down here. I wanna go up to the top row."

"It's too far away," Xander hissed back. "You don't get the same experience."

"I also don't get a major crick in my neck!" Her arms crossed. "I'm not outnumbered this time," she warned, eyes narrowed.

"If I may interrupt," Jesse broke in. He pushed his way between them. "Could we settle this before we get thrown out? Or...why don't we let William pick?"

William blinked as all three turned to him. "Um..." He shrugged uncomfortably. "We can sit in the middle?"

"Ah, the man with a plan." Xander slung his arm over William's shoulders. "Willow, lead the way."

They filed up the steps and found themselves seats, settling down as the lights dimmed. Snacks were hastily distributed, then traded around when Jesse complained that he hated jujubes and somebody had better switch with him.

The movie proved to be a hit, leaving the boys weak with laughter, and Willow giggling breathlessly. Afterwards, they decided to swing by the ice cream parlor for yet more sugar before heading home.

As a group, they strode down the nearly deserted sidewalk. Xander managed to engage William in a spirited discussion on whether or not pistachio ice cream was better than walnut fudge, with Willow egging them on.

Jesse added the occasional comment, but mostly just listened in rapt fascination. Suddenly, he stumbled, catching himself on a wall. Looking down, he noticed his shoelace had come untied, tripping him up. With a sigh, he bent to tie it again. By the time he stood and brushed himself off, the others had moved far ahead, not having noticed his pause.

He hurried to catch up, breaking into a slow jog. As he rounded a corner, he nearly crashed into the girl standing there.

"Oh! I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking. You're ok, aren't you?"

Jesse grinned at the pretty young woman. "Sure, everything fine here. How about you? Anything broken?"

"No, I'm all right. Um, I am a bit lost, though. I'm...new to the area."

Jesse was eager to be helpful, especially to someone as sweet as this girl seemed to be. "Well, I can point you in the right direction; where are you trying to go? Oh, I'm Jesse, by the way." He held out a hand.

"Darla." A slim, pale hand met his in a cool grasp.

Xander glanced back, pausing. He cut Willow off as he asked, "Where's Jesse?"

They all looked back at the dimly lit sidewalk behind them, swallowing hard. "Jesse?" three voices called as one.

There was no answer, and William shuffled nervously. "I...I have a bad feeling. I think we should go back."

"Right." Xander grabbed one of Willow's hands in his own, and she in turn took hold of William. Hastily, they began to backtrack their route.

A few minutes later, they had found no sign of Jesse, and Willow was on the verge of tears. Then William turned sharply, pointing at a nearby alley. They all held their breath, listening.

A muffled yell caught their attention, and they surged forward. The scene they came upon left them gaping.

"Jesse!?" Willow choked out, wondering who the blonde girl that had her friend pinned up against the wall was, and where Jesse had met her, and why they were making out here.

It was Xander who saw the panicked look in Jesse's eyes, and he grabbed hold of the woman's shoulder. "Hey, lady, get off!"

The woman tore her head away from Jesse's neck, wheeling around. Bloody fangs greeted the trio, and yellow eyes burned with malice. Willow covered her mouth before she could shriek.

"What the fuck--?" Then Xander shook himself. "I said, back off!"

William searched the alley, finding a jagged bit of broken crate and hefting it menacingly. This earned him a venomous hiss from the...creature, who narrowed her eyes in brief consideration before releasing Jesse, shoving him toward Xander before racing off.

Xander caught his friend, holding the shaking boy as he watched the creature disappear into the shadows.

"Jesse, are you all right? What happened?" Willow rushed forward, checking Jesse over for injuries.

Jesse nodded, then winced, reaching for his neck. He heard Willow gasp when he pulled away bloody fingers. "She bit me," he said in a voice tinged with disbelief and a touch of hysteria. "I was just trying to help, she said she was lost. Then she dragged me into this alley, turned all freaky-looking, and bit me. What the hell was that thing?"

"Um, guys?" William waited until they looked at him. "I think we should get away from here. Inside somewhere, and get a bandage or something on Jesse's neck."

Jesse gave a weak nod. "Man, I'll vote for that plan. Someone help me up?"

The group stumbled into the ice cream shop, Xander and William propping Jesse upright while Willow hovered protectively. It was interesting how none of the patrons currently in the shop even looked at them askance, behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

Willow bit her lip, brow furrowing as she studied Jesse, who was holding a hand clamped over his neck. "We should get that fixed."

"I'll take him to the lavatory to clean up," William volunteered. "You and Xander should find us a table and...act normal."

"Wait a sec, shouldn't we report this or something?" Xander glanced at his friends quizzically.

"Woah. No way man! Do you have any idea how much trouble I'd be in if my parents got a call from the cops? Huh-uh, no thanks!" Jesse's face was set stubbornly with his refusal.

"Jesse. Come on." William smiled at the others, then dragged Jesse to the restroom. Once inside the small room, he grabbed a handful of paper towels and wet them under the faucet.

Jesse watched for a moment, then hopped up onto the counter. He picked distastefully at his shirt, which had acquired a small bloodstain near the collar. With a shrug, he pulled the shirt off over his head and soaked the spot under the stream of cool water.

"I'll get that." William took the shirt and set it aside for the moment, then tilted Jesse's head back. Carefully, he dabbed at the blood-encrusted bite, apologizing softly when Jesse hissed in pain. Finally, he stepped back and looked at the wound. "Well, I haven't any bandages, but it's stopped bleeding, and if you keep your collar pulled up, it shouldn't be too noticeable."

"You think?" Jesse twisted around to look in the mirror, wincing at the livid bruising that surrounded the twin punctures. "I dunno. Looks kinds obvious to me."

"Well, there's not really any other choice, you know," William commented softly. He threw away the soiled napkins, then pulled out some new ones and began to work on Jesse's shirt.

Jesse studied William intently as the other boy scrubbed at his shirt. "So, William."

"Hmm?" William continued with his task, listening to Jesse distractedly.

"You like Xander, don't you?"

William's arm jerked, knocking painfully into the wall. Hissing, he rubbed it, trying to calm his racing heart. "Um, well, yes. I mean, I l-like all of you."

Jesse sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but not the same way. You look at Xander like he's dipped in Hershey's syrup and you're a starving chocoholic."

William flushed a bright red. His hands shook as he smoothed out the damp but mostly clean shirt. "I...I d-don't know what you m-mean." He refused to look up.

"Bullshit." That made William's head snap up incredulously, and Jesse glared at him. "Don't lie to me, William. I may be an idiot sometimes, but I'm not blind."

A look of utter desolation washed over William's face. His legs collapsed, and he slumped to the floor. He wrapped his arms around his knees and started to rock gently.

Jesse hopped off the counter and knelt next to him. "Hey, what's wrong? It's ok. I mean, I'm not gonna get all phobic on you just 'cause you have the hots for a guy. Come on, talk to me."

William sniffled wretchedly. "I didn't mean to," he whispered brokenly. "I just...he...it's..."

Jesse slung an arm around his shoulders. "Dude, chill. It's not the end of the world. I mean, at least you didn't have some freaky chick gnawing your throat out tonight!" He snorted with laughter. "Now granted, Xander wouldn't be my first choice for fantasy material, but...each to his own."

With a groan, William tilted his head back. "You don't understand. Just seeing him makes me feel..." He sighed, a dopey smile flickering into appearance.

"Crushing on the Xand-man, huh?" Jesse smiled. "Well, you could do worse I guess. At least you don't have a thing for Larry."

William looked confused. "Who?"

"Eh, the requisite school bully. Has the whole dumb jock thing goin' on."

"Oh. No, it's just...him." Another sigh, this one with a note of sadness. "But...Willow likes him too, and they've known each other a lot longer. Plus she's a girl. Why would he want me?"

"Dude, just between us, those two are not gonna hook up." He stood up, grabbing his abandoned shirt and slipping it back on. "She's like a sister to me and Xander. He'll never see her as girlfriend material. Besides, them as a couple?" He shook his head. "Talk about your bad ideas! Willow's too stuck in the hero worship phase, and Xander...well, I don't think he's as uninterested in you as you think he is."

William wiped at his nose as he stood. "W-what do you mean?"

"William, my friend...the boy was totally checking out your ass at the theater tonight!"

William blinked, then blushed again.

"Word of advice? Don't rush him. He's not used to people liking him, other than me and Willow. And he's definitely not used to people liking him, if you know what I mean. Just...keep giving him those shy little looks you do so well." With a huge grin, he slapped the other boy on the back, herding him toward the door. "Oh, and a little ass wiggling probably wouldn't hurt, either," he advised as they left the restroom.

Willow and Xander looked up from their mega-banana-splits as the other two came up to their table. They both scooted down, and Jesse sat next to Willow, leaving the vacant spot beside Xander for William.

Xander firmly ignored how the pinkish tinge lingering on William's face seemed to make him glow, and instead examined Jesse. "Hey man, nice bruise."

Jesse smiled and tenderly prodded the discolored skin. "Think I can get away with calling it a hickey?"

Xander rolled his eyes and snickered.

"Looks more like you were mauled." Willow squinted closely at the mark. Once she had assured herself that Jesse was relatively fine, Willow smiled and handed him a spoon. "Here, I got mine without nuts since you're allergic."

Xander grinned and shoveled a mouthful of ice cream topped with hoards of peanut bits into his mouth as he tossed William a spoon as well. "Dig in," he managed after he swallowed. "I got extra Hershey's syrup."

William almost cursed his fair complexion as he felt himself blushing yet again. Absently, he wondered if he'd ever get that reaction under control. He tentatively dipped his spoon into the sweet concoction, darting a glance across the table. Jesse was staring at him with a mischievous look, waggling his eyebrows as he stared at the chocolate sauce dripping off William's spoon. Giving the other boy a halfhearted glare, William defiantly shoved the spoon into his mouth.

Somehow, Willow and Jesse managed to finish theirs first, and got up to dispose of their trash. William and Xander each gulped down their last mouthful, then eyed the lone maraschino cherry. "Mine," William claimed quickly, and went for it. But Xander had the same idea, and the two laughed softly as a brief spoon war ensued.

"Quit goofing around you guys," Willow admonished good-naturedly. "We'll be waiting by the door."

Xander took advantage of William's momentary distraction and scooped up the cherry. He popped it into his mouth, chewing it with a blissful look on his face. When he finished, he smirked at the glowering boy next to him. He stuck out his tongue. "Ha! Stole your cherry!"

William's breath caught, and he froze in his seat. He watched all laughter fade from Xander's face. When Xander inched closer, he swallowed hard.

Xander could hardly breathe as he stared at William, watching as those pale eyes darkened with some nameless emotion. He licked his lips and leaned toward him.

"Guys! Come on!"

Willow's voice broke the spell, and they sprang away from each other, completely flustered. Quickly, they scrambled out of their booth and over to their companions.

Willow was completely oblivious to what had happened, but Jesse had to restrain himself from pinching the redhead. He had been sure something was about to happen. Then he shrugged. Better it not happen in public the first time, he supposed. But if he had to, he'd find a way to lock those two into a room together. A small room.

Darla made her way deeper into the sewers, cursing softly over the loss of her prey. She felt a tingling between her shoulder blades, and glanced behind to make sure she wasn't being followed. Sensing nothing there, she turned back, shrieking when she collided with the large man in front of her. "Luke!" She gasped, and a hand flew up to rest over her chest. "I hate it when you do that!"

"Darla," Luke responded disapprovingly as he looked her up and down. "You were supposed to bring an offering for the Master. We're almost at Harvest!" With arms folded, he glared at her.

Darla withered under his burning yellow gaze. "I-I had someone, but then...there were others. They attacked me...they had weapons...stakes!" She gazed up at him beseechingly.

With a sneer, Luke dismissed her. "You go. I'll see if I can't find something...suitable." He watched her dart off, then carefully exited the maze of tunnels, emerging in a darkened alley. Cocking his head, he listened closely. With a predatory grin on his face, he followed the faint sound of shoes slapping against pavement.

He hid in the shadows until his chosen prey drew close. Snarling, he pounced on the unsuspecting man.

Luke laughed, amused at the fight the human put up. He quickly subdued him, and tightened an arm around his neck. "You are strong," he hissed in the terrified human's ear. "But I am stronger."

The man whimpered and continued his futile struggles, clawing frantically at the immobile arm that was slowly cutting off his air.

"You can't stop us. Nothing can stop us." Luke squeezed harder, smiling as the man's jerky movements grew weaker. A look of almost religious ecstasy passed over the vampire's face as he waited for the man to lose consciousness.

"And like a plague of boils, the race of man covered the earth." He began his recitation with a look of disgust that soon grew to one of anticipation. "But on the third day of the newest light will come the Harvest. And the blood of men will flow as wine...and the Master will walk among them once more. The earth will belong to the Old Ones, and hell itself will come to town."

He released the human, who slumped to the ground, only his faint breathing betraying the fact that he still lived. Luke easily hoisted the limp form, and started back toward the sewers. "Amen."

Jesse peered intently at the doors to the library, then straightened and walked inside. He glanced around curiously, wrinkling his nose at the musty smell. There didn't appear to be anyone around, so he leaned up against the counter, arms folded.

"Can I help you?"

Jesse jumped back with an aborted scream, wheeling around frantically.

"I say, are you quite all right?"

"Don't do that!" Jesse held a hand over his pounding heart as he glared at the librarian.

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry. Er...was there anything I could help you with?" Rupert squinted. "I say, is there something the matter with your neck? Perhaps you should go see the nurse."

"No, no, I'm good." Jesse slapped a hand over his neck and backed up a step. "Everything's good. Just, you know, waiting for some friends. To...study." He managed not to cringe as he said the word. "With the...book things..." He blinked and stepped quickly over to a table, plopping himself down in a chair. After tugging his collar up further, he folded his hands and attempted to appear studious.

"I...see..." Rupert watched the boy for a moment, then, with a shrug, returned to shelving books.

Jesse drummed his fingers impatiently as he waited. The whole 'library' concept was pretty alien to him, and the place was giving him the creeps. His relief at the appearance of Willow and William was almost palpable.

"Hi Mr. Giles!" Willow chirped brightly as she made her way past him.

"Ms. Rosenberg. Lovely day, isn't it?"

Willow choked slightly. "Um, yeah. Wonderful day." With a fake smile on her face, she groped for a chair next to Jesse.

Rupert didn't notice, however, his attention already having been fixed on his son. "William. Here to study I presume?"

"Um, yes Da. We're...all studying for a...a test." He glanced down, shuffling past his father and taking a seat at the table across from Jesse and Willow.

"Well, good luck." With a nod to them, Rupert disappeared into the stacks.

Jesse gaped at William. "Woah, he's your dad? Isn't that, like, freaky or something?"

"No," William answered with a rather confused look. "Why would it be?"

"Oh. Um...no reason." He winced when Willow elbowed him in the ribs. "Would you quit that?"

Willow blinked at him innocently. "Quit what? And where's Xander?"

Jesse glared at her for a moment before answering. "He had to stop by his locker. He should be here in just a minute."

William grinned briefly at the mention of Xander, then glanced at Willow, resuming what must have been a previous conversation. "So...all that information you found is just...open to the public?"

Willow blushed. "Um...well...i-in a way. I sort of...stumbled on a few things when I accidentally decrypted some of the county's security systems."

"Someone's been naughty." Xander pushed through the doors and strode into the library. He bounded over to the table. "Hey, my buds!" He sat next to William, sprawling out in his chair. "So, what's the what?"

"Ok, first off...keep it down!" Willow fixed Xander with a stern look.

"Oh, sure. Low-key. Gotcha." He made a zipping gesture over his mouth.

"Right. Anyway, William and I were digging around online and stuff, and we found some things out."

"Well, spill." Jesse leaned forward eagerly.

William looked around covertly, then got up and hurried over to a bookshelf. He extracted a rather large volume, which he deposited on the table.

"Vampyr...you're kidding, right?" Xander was obviously skeptical.

William shook his head. "I found this earlier, and skimmed through a few chapters." He visibly went into lecture mode. "According to this, eons ago, demons walked the earth. It was their domain. But in time, they lost their purchase on this reality, and the way was paved for man. Of the Old Ones, all that remained were vestiges...certain magics...creatures. And vampires."

Xander scoffed. "Ok, this is where I have a problem. See, because we're talking about vampires. We're having a talk...with vampires in it."

"Well, isn't that what we saw last night?" Willow folded her arms stubbornly.

"Hey, all I know is that freaky chick was trying to suck my blood out!" Jesse shuddered and reached up to feel his neck.

"Yeah, but--"

"So, vampires are demons?" Jesse interrupted Xander, addressing his question to William.

"Well, the book tells that the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human...mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed...infected by the demon itself." William cleared his throat and handed the book to Xander. "He bit another, and another. And so they walked the earth...feeding. Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind." He paused, then went on hesitantly, "Waiting for the animals to die out...and the Old Ones to return."

There was silence as everyone digested this information. Then Willow spoke up, "Anyway, after we hit on the vampire thing, I...researched the hospital and morgue statistics. Do you know how many people were either wounded or killed by 'barbecue forks' in the last year?"

"Barbecue forks? What, did someone's Uncle Pauly get a little too drunk at the annual family picnic?"

"I doubt that was really the cause," William interjected softly.

"Yeah. I mean, how many people even own one, much less go around stabbing themselves or others with them? Anyway, there were over 200 separate incidents like that, with the majority of them being 'cause of death', not just injuries."

Xander held up a hand. "So...you're saying Sunnydale is infested with vampires?"

William and Willow exchanged a look, and Willow nodded. "That's our guess."

Jesse gave a rather weak snort. "And you thought living here would be dull," he told William.

"One more thing," Willow added. "The body in the locker yesterday? Guess what the records list the cause of death as?"

"Lemme guess...Uncle Pauly?" Xander made a stabbing motion with his hand.

Willow nodded bleakly. With a sigh, she folded her arms on the table and rested her chin on them. "I...I think that covers everything."

Xander let the book drop onto the table, and he stood up, pacing in agitation. "Except for one thing...how do we kill them? One of these things attacked Jesse...no way am I letting it get another shot at any of us!"

Jesse nodded emphatically. "Hell yeah. I wanna know how to get rid of these suckers. No pun intended there."

With a frown, William picked up the book and replaced it on the shelf. "Are you sure we should be contemplating something like this?"

"Well, I for one am not anxious to go into dark places full of monsters, but I do wanna help. Like Xander said...no one can go after one of us without a little bit of payback." Willow's expression was fierce.

"All right. Fine. So...more research?"

Willow gave him a determined nod of agreement. Then a thought struck her. "Jesse, is there anything else you can tell us about what happened? Anything that might help?"

Jesse thought carefully, reviewing the previous evening's events carefully. His face brightened. "You know, she was babbling something about offerings for some 'master', and something about a 'harvest'. Think that means anything?"

"We'll see what we can find." She moved over to where the computer was, and logged on to the Internet "William, c'mere."

William pulled a chair up next to her, looking at the monitor over her shoulder.

"So..." Jesse began backing out of the library. "Does this mean I can go now?"

Willow waved a hand distractedly. "Meet after school. By the fountain." She pointed out something on the screen to William, who pulled out a pad of paper and began taking notes.

Jesse yanked on Xander's arm. "Man, let's get outta here before we get sucked into that evil researching thing!"

Xander grinned at him, and the two boys quickly walked out of the library.

"Are you guys sure we wanna do this?" Willow looked around for confirmation.

"Hell yeah," Jesse replied emphatically. "I'm not gonna sit inside like a scared little kid...I wanna be able to go out and have fun!"

"Besides," Xander added, "we've never had any problems at the Bronze. Ouch! Damn it!" He glared at Jesse.

Jesse glowered back at him. "Thank you ever so much for jinxing it there, Xan! Geez, why don't you just advertise for trouble!?"

"I so didn't jinx it! Tell him, Willow!"

Willow just sighed. "I'm not getting involved in this...again!" She handed a squirt gun to William, who stared at the object curiously. "Holy water," she explained to him, then passed out similar items to Xander and Jesse.

"Hey Wills, do we wanna know where you got this from?" Jesse snickered at the mental image of Willow sneaking into some church and siphoning out the containers of water.

"Oh, hush," Willow scolded. "Did you guys bring the stakes?"

"Yep." Xander unzipped his backpack and let a pile of the sharp objects clatter onto the table. "See Willow, I told you me and Jesse would learn something useful in that shop class!" He grinned proudly.

"Great. That about does it. Except...William, got your stuff?"

William nodded and produced three lighters, which he passed to Willow. "Da always has extra of these. He says he's quit smoking, but he still has a fag occasionally."

Xander choked. "A-A what?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "A cigarette, Xander. That's what they're called in England."

"Oh." Xander chuckled nervously. "I just...um, I thought you meant...never mind." He took one of the lighters, flicking it on experimentally. "So," he said loudly in an attempt to cover his embarrassment, "What good are these little things gonna do?"

William smiled and took out another lighter. With his other hand, he pulled out a travel size bottle of hair spray. He backed up a few steps, flicked the lighter on, and spritzed the tiny flame.

"Woah!" Jesse and Xander jumped back, gaping in awe at the ball of fire that was produced.

"The only problem," William explained clinically, "is that it takes both hands to do." He shrugged. "It's the best I could come up with this quickly, though."

"Works for me." Jesse snatched a lighter and held a hand out for a bottle of hair spray. He stared at the items with just a tad too much excitement on his face.

"Don't go pyro on us here, Jesse," Willow said with a fond grin.

"What???" Jesse gave her an innocent look, then stuffed the lighter and hair spray into his pocket.

Willow sighed. "Boys," she muttered softly as she shook her head.

"Geez Jesse, way to make like the homicidal maniac." Xander punched his shoulder lightly. Then, he ever so nonchalantly grabbed his own lighter and hair spray and tucked them away. He cleared his throat. "So, let's get going!"

"See? I told you nothing would happen there. And you guys were worrying!" Xander threw an arm around Jesse's shoulders as they walked down the alley away from the Bronze.

"Willow!" Jesse whined. "He's doing it again! At this rate, we'll be lucky to get home alive!"

"Well, it probably doesn't help that the two of you are advertising our presence to anything that might be out there! Stop making such a racket!" Willow glowered at the rambunctious boys, who pouted at her, but fell silent.

"You have a lot of experience with that, don't you?" William spoke quietly to her as they quickly made their way down the street.

Willow snorted. "They're just a couple of big kids, really." Then she smiled softly. "I love 'em, though. Wouldn't know what to do without them."

William glanced ahead. They'd managed to fall back a little from the other two, so he took a chance and asked her quietly, "You...you really like Xander...don't you?"

Smiling sadly, Willow answered, "Is it that obvious?" She sighed. "I...I've had the biggest crush on him for years now. But...he never notices. I mean, I know he cares about me. It's just, I think he sees me like a sister, you know? And...I don't know how to ever get him to see me as, well, me."

"It...it must really hurt. To think about him ever being with...someone else." William stared fixedly at the pavement as they continued walking. Willow was fast becoming one of the closest friends he'd ever had, and no matter how deeply he felt about Xander, he couldn't bear the thought of hurting Willow by being with him. Not that he though he stood much chance anyway, no matter what Jesse had said.

Willow sniffed softly. "Yeah. A little." She shrugged. "Ok, a lot. But...he's my friend. And, no matter what, I just want him to be happy. Even if it i-isn't with m-me." She wiped at her eyes, then continued brightly, "I just hope that whoever he ends up with can love him like he deserves."

"Yeah," William agreed under his breath.

A high-pitched shriek wrenched their attention back to their companions. They immediately reached for their weapons when they saw Jesse sprawled out on the pavement. Over him was a man -- vampire? -- who had his arm around Xander's throat, and was glaring at them with yellow, glowing eyes.

The vampire merely laughed when they pulled out their stakes. "I'm so scared," he hissed, and he held Xander in front of him to block any of their attempts. He began to drag Xander back into the shadows with him.

Xander struggled, slamming his elbow back forcefully. The vampire merely grunted in annoyance and tightened his grip.

Carefully, Willow and William stepped apart and started to circle the vampire from either side. "Let him go," William demanded, eyes narrowing in anger.

"Why should I? He'll make a wonderful offering for the Master. He's smells so young and sweet." He growled softly and licked up the side of Xander's neck, making the boy shudder in disgust.

From his position on the ground, Jesse managed to reach into a pocket and pull out his squirt gun. His actions went unnoticed by the vampire, who was concentrating on what seemed to be the more imminent threat of the other two humans. With a vengeful grin, Jesse aimed and sent a stream of water into the vampire's eyes.

Howling, the vampire flung Xander away and clutched at his burning face. He stumbled back blindly, groping for some defense against this unexpected attack.

"Stay down!" Willow shouted at Jesse. She ran forward, flicked on her lighter, and sprayed the hair spray through the flame towards the vampire. Then she too dropped to the ground.

The vampire's agonized screams reached a crescendo as his clothing caught on fire, burning fiercely. With one last shriek of impotent fury, he exploded into a cloud of dust.

Panting, the four stared in shock at the small scorched mark left on the pavement. "Woah," Jesse whispered. "Way rad."

"Is everyone ok?" Willow stood and brushed off, checking for injuries.

Xander groaned pitifully. "I think me and this wall got a little too intimate," he grunted, holding a hand over his forehead.

William rushed over and pried his hand away, gasping as blood began to stream from the cut. "We-we have to get you someplace where we can clean this up." He replaced Xander's hand, hoping to stem the flow.

Willow and Jesse crouched beside him and stared at Xander. 'That's bleeding a lot," Willow said in a worried voice. "But I-I'm sure you'll be ok," she hurried on, hoping to reassure Xander. "Head wounds always bleed a lot, it's totally natural. But, um, yeah, we should get a bandage or something on it."

"Dude, you live closest," Jesse said to William. "Got anything at your place to fix him up with?"

William nodded. "Da has a first-aid kit in the lavatory, it should have whatever we need."

Jesse stood and helped Xander to his feet. "Ok then, here's the plan. You take Xander home with you, get him fixed up. I'll walk home with Willow, since she lives across the street from me." Taking in Xander's pale, shaking state, he asked, "Will your dad be ok with Xander staying the night? I don't think he's gonna be able to make it all the way back to his place. Especially not alone."

"I-I think so. But...what should I tell him?"

Jesse blinked. "Oh. Good point. Um...can you sneak him in? If he leaves just after sunrise, no one will ever even know he was there."

William swallowed nervously. "I...suppose so."

"Are you sure we should separate?" Willow asked, not wanting to leave Xander when he was injured.

"I think we need to get off the streets as soon as possible, and this is the best way." Jesse slung his arm around Willow's shoulders. "Don't worry, he'll be fine in William's capable hands. And I, my dear lady, will protect you."

Willow gave him a wan smile. Stretching up on her tiptoes, she kissed Xander's cheek quickly. "You be safe, ok?"

Xander nodded, then clutched at his head with a whimper. "Sure thing, Wills," he whispered.

"Ok. We'll meet tomorrow during lunch in the library again. Is that good?" She waved goodbye as William slowly led Xander away.

To distract her, Jesse groaned loudly. "The library? Again? I'm gonna catch something if you keep making me go there."

Willow looked at him, a smile playing about her lips. "Libraries are fun," she told him firmly. "There's books, and learning, and--"

"No more!" Jesse clapped his hands over his ears. "Make it stop!"

Giggling, Willow punched his arm playfully. "Come on, give 'em a chance," she cajoled. "I'll give you chocolate."

Jesse brightened. "Chocolate? Well, why didn't you say so? Lead on!"

Their joking banter continued as they walked, and the emotions left over from the vampire attack slowly began to fade. Then, Jesse stiffened. He cocked his head, then jerked Willow into a shadowy recess. "Shh!" he hissed when she tried to protest.

They stood in absolute stillness, listening to the faint footsteps grow louder as they approached their hiding place. When the footsteps paused, Jesse let go of Willow, readied his squirt gun, and jumped out.

The man whirled around. "Is there a problem here?" he asked, eyeing the plastic gun closely.

Willow stepped out and joined Jesse. "Yeah, there's a problem. Why are you following us?"

The man held up his hands. "Don't worry, I don't bite." He studied Willow closely. "I thought you'd be taller. More muscular and all that."

Willow gave Jesse a confused look, wondering what the man meant by that.

"What do you want?" Jesse asked, taking a step forward to place Willow behind him.

"The same thing you do." He kept staring intently at Willow.

Frowning, Willow tossed her hair out of her face. "And what's that?"

The man leaned forward. "To kill them," he said in a low voice. "To kill them all."

Jesse began backing up, herding Willow behind him. "Look man, we don't want to kill anyone."

The man gave a humorless laugh. "Didn't look like it earlier."

They froze, gaping in astonishment. Then Willow found her voice. "He came after us first. W-We just want to be left alone."

"Do you really think that's an option?" He snorted. "You're standing at the mouth of hell...and it's about to open." He gave another quiet laugh. "Don't turn your back on this. You've got to be ready."

"What for?"

"For the Harvest."

"Quit with the cryptic bullshit, man. Who are you?" Jesse fixed the man with his most intimidating stare.

"Let's just say...I'm a friend."

Willow spoke up over Jesse's shoulder. "Yeah, well maybe we don't want any more friends."

A bitter smile was directed at them. "I didn't say I was yours." In near silence, the man spun around and strode quickly away.

Left alone again, the two stood close together. "Can we go home now?" Willow asked in a tiny voice.

"Yeah." Jesse stared off in the distance to where the man had disappeared. "Yeah, let's get you home."

William struggled to hold Xander upright as he fumbled for his key. Finally, he managed to open the door without Xander sliding to the floor, and he pulled them inside. He seated Xander on the couch, then ran for some paper towels, which he urged Xander to hold against his forehead. Then, he went back to the kitchen to read the note he'd seen on the refrigerator door. He breathed a sigh of relief.

A hiss of pain dragged him back to the couch, and he knelt beside Xander. "I'm going to get the bandages and things, I'll bring something for the pain too."

"God, thank you. You are a kind, wonderful person." He slouched down into the cushions. "Should I go hide somewhere now?"

William shook his head. "Da left a note, said he had to go to some meeting at the school. Something about the...the body in the locker. He won't be back until late."

"Oh. Good. Drugs? Can I please have drugs now?"

"Right." William left, returning quickly with the first-aid box. He gave a couple of aspirin to Xander, grimacing when the other boy swallowed them dry. Then he sat next to Xander and turned on the lamp by the couch. "Lean this way," he instructed.

Xander shifted sideways, practically falling into William's lap. He looked up with a goofy grin. "I didn't know you were twins," he mumbled insensibly. His eyes flickered back and forth. "You both have really pretty eyes, though."

William gasped and went rigid. Then he shook his head. "You're hurt," he said quietly. "Let me see that." With a clean cloth, he dabbed at the cut, apologizing when Xander flinched. He was relieved to find that, although the cut was rather long, it was shallow. By this time, the blood had slowed to just a sluggish trickle now, and William soon had Xander's face cleaned up.

"Mmmm, soft hands," Xander whispered almost inaudibly as he inched in closer to William.

Panting softly, William applied the antibiotic cream with shaking hands. He really, really hoped that Xander didn't move just a few inches closer.

The front door swung open, and the main light was switched on, brightening the room considerably. "William, are you still up? I was -- good heavens!"

Stricken, William gulped hard and stared up at his father. "Da! I, ah...it...it's not what it looks like!"

Xander reached up a hand and covered William's mouth. "Shh," he told him. "Loud noises bad. Quiet now."

Rupert removed his glasses to give them a quick polish. He replaced them, sighing when nothing about the scene had changed. William was still sitting on the couch, Xander curled comfortably in his lap, open first-aid kit and bloody cloths littering the neighboring cushions. Concerned, he bent over Xander. "Xander, are you all right?"

Xander smiled up at him. "M'good Mr. Giles." His eyes flew wide, clearing abruptly. He jerked himself out of William's lap, almost falling off the couch in the process. "Mr. Giles!" He glanced over at William. "I...um...that is..."

"What happened?"

William flushed. "Um, see, there was...actually...um...he fell?" He bit his lip nervously.

"He fell?" He looked at Xander. "You fell?"

Xander gave him a weak nod, smiling half-heartedly.

"I see. William? Is that the truth?"

William shifted awkwardly under his father's disapproving stare. "Sort of? I mean...um...no?"

"Mm-hmm." Rupert peered at Xander's injury, then affixed a couple of butterfly sutures to it. "Would you like to tell me the real story, then?"

"N-not really." He cringed at the harsh look that provoked.

Rupert shook his head in disappointment. "Xander, what is your parent's number?"

"555-3920" Xander whispered, giving William a look of sympathy.

Rupert left to use the phone. When he returned, he almost smiled at seeing Xander listing to the side, eyes once more glazed and heavy-lidded. "You'll stay the night here, I've already told your parents." He wasn't sure if Xander would really understand him, but the boy nodded before curling up against the arm of the couch. "William."

Hesitantly, William stood. He watched as his father got out an extra blanket and pillow, tucking Xander in. Then he followed him into the kitchen.

"I don't like being lied to," Rupert informed his son in a hard voice.

William stared at the floor. "I'm sorry."

"I'm assuming something happened while you were out with your other friends this evening?"

William gave a jerky nod.

"All right then. I want you to go to bed now. We'll talk tomorrow." He stared at him meaningfully. "All of us. And I don't want to hear any more lies."

"Yes, Da." He swallowed, fighting back tears as he backed out of the room. He paused by the couch, a hand reaching out to brush tentatively through Xander's hair.

"William. Bed. Now."

William heaved a sigh and trudged to his room.

Willow and Jesse walked into the library. They stopped in their tracks when they were confronted by the librarian's level stare. "Um, hi Mr. Giles," Willow offered. She edged past him and took a seat at the table.

Jesse hurried after her and sat next to Xander. "Dude, what's up with him?" he whispered.

"Busted," Xander whispered back. "He wants to know. Everything."

"Oooh." Jesse winced. "We telling him the truth?"

"Have to. Have you seen William try to lie to his dad? It's not a pretty sight."

"That's gotta suck. How's your head by the way?"

"Still attached. Not sure if that's a good thing though. Remind me not to introduce it to any more brick walls."

"Gentlemen...if I may?" Rupert stood at the head of the table, arms crossed as he examined the group of youngsters. "I know something happened last night. I want to know what," he told them sternly, "and I want the truth."

No one spoke, and Rupert sighed loudly. "Ms. Rosenberg?"

"Me?" Willow squeaked. "Why me?"

Rupert just stared at her.

With a reproachful glare at her silent companions, Willow started.

Rupert looked up from his examination of Jesse's neck. "You're being absolutely serious?"

Willow nodded. "Cross our hearts."

"Yeah, don't these look serious to you?" Jesse poked at the partially healed fang marks on his neck. "Let me tell you how not fun it was trying to explain that to my parents."

"Plus, you know, we have some research we did." Willow pulled out a notebook and offered it to him. "Just some preliminary stuff, we've only been looking into it for a day or so now."

Rupert sank down into a nearby chair. "This is unbelievable," he muttered. "My god." He stared at his son in horror. "What kind of place have I brought you to?"

"The mouth of hell." Jesse flinched at the glares sent his way. "Hey, it's what that guy said last night, not me!"

"What guy?"

Jesse frowned. "What, we didn't tell you?"

Xander drummed his fingers on the tabletop. "No. No, you didn't. Would you please tell us now?"

"Well, Willow and I met up with this seriously weird guy on the way home last night. He seemed to have a real yen for Willow. Kept eyeballing her."

"Seriously creepy," Willow chimed in. "And he saw us with the vampire earlier."

"Anyway, he said we were on the mouth of hell, and had to be ready for the harvest." Jesse frowned. "That chick from before was talking about a harvest too. Think it means something?"

"And this master guy. Both the vampires were talking about a master. And I really didn't like the sound of being an offering for whoever 'the master' is." Xander blanched as he remembered the inhumanely cold tongue snaking up his neck.

"I think there's really only one thing we can do at this point." Rupert shook himself and stood purposefully. "I had wondered why there were so many books dealing with magic and other arcane subjects in this library. I'm sure one of them must contain something of use."

Jesse groaned and let his head thump down on the table. "Not more research!" he wailed. "It's not fair!"

"How do porcupines have sex?" At the strangled fit of coughing that followed this query, Jesse looked up from his book to see a group of bemused faces studying him. "What?" he asked defensively. "It's a valid question!"

Rupert managed to recover his composure. Steadying himself with a deep breath, he asked, "Is there...some particular reason you ask?"

Jesse shrugged. "I just wondered."

Xander leaned across the table, a mischievous grin o his face. "Tell me, Jess-man. Do you often think about the mating habits of various animal species?"

Glaring, Jesse retorted, "Sorry Xan, I try not to ever think about you like that." He slanted a glance over at William, giving him a naughty wink that drew a faint blush from the flustered boy.

Xander noticed the brief exchange and felt a twinge of...worry? ...jealousy? ...anger? He brushed it off uncomfortably, resloved to believe it was just a lingering result of his head injury.

"Besides," Jesse continued, "you can't tell me it doesn't make you wonder too. I mean, think about all those quills! Ouch! I feel sorry for the guy porcupines." He frowned and gave Willow a stern look. "You realize this is all your fault, don't you? You drag me into this...book-filled place that has all these brainy vibes practically beating at me, and see what happens? I start thinking! Seeking actual...knowledge!" He shuddered.

Willow rolled her eyes. "Be brave, Jesse," she said solemnly. "It's good for you. Builds character."

Jesse stuck his tongue out at her.

"The female lays her quills down flat against her body during the a-actual act to keep from impaling her mate." William felt his cheeks heat up again as the group transferred their bemused gazes to him.

Rupert removed his glasses and asked in an amused voice, "Do I want to know how you acquired that bit of information?"

"I read it in the 'National Geographic'!" William defended himself. He glowered at Willow and Xander, who were giggling softly. "I did!"

A bell rang loudly, signaling the end of lunch period. There were groans as Rupert loaded everyone down with books to take home and study, but they left with a minimum of fuss. Rupert stopped William on his way out. "I still think you and I need to have a little chat," he told him firmly. "Your behavior last night left something to be desired. I wouldn't make any plans for going out this evening."

"Yes, Da." William sighed and trailed out after his friends.

William sat nervously, shifting as the unyielding wood began to numb his backside. He nibbled at his bottom lip, watching as his father paced silently in front of him. Kitchen, turn, pace, living room, turn, pace, pause and glower, pace. Back and forth.

Finally, he couldn't stand it any more. He sat up straight and tried to look as determined as possible. "Father, I understand that you're upset, but I couldn't very well leave them to fend for themselves! I think that--"

Rupert held up a hand, interrupting William's impromptu speech. Very quietly, he said, "I am not upset that you felt the need to help your friends. I am not even too terribly upset over the fact that the four of you decided to-to arm yourselves and venture out even when you knew what could very well happen. What I am upset about is that you felt the need to lie to me!"

"But I--"

"William Alastair Giles, you will sit there, and you will listen to me, is that understood?"

Eyes wide, William nodded.

"I will tell you right now that there are few things you could do that I would consider to be worse than lying to me. Now," he pulled a chair over and sat next to William. "I understand that you must have thought it would be easier not to tell me the truth. Certainly, you must have thought I wouldn't believe you anyway. But...you didn't even try, William." Rupert sighed and combed his fingers through his hair.

"With all honesty, I must admit that I would have found the truth difficult to swallow. I'm just disappointed that you didn't give me a chance." He faced his son seriously. "What the four of you did was dangerous, and poorly thought out. Someone could have been seriously hurt. You could have been hurt." Rupert removed his glasses, setting them carefully on the table. Head bowed, he rubbed his eyes. "I couldn't stand it if you were hurt, William."

William swallowed. Taking a deep breath, he slid out of his chair and knelt next to his father. "I'm all right, Da. Willow's terribly smart, and she and I found out as much as we could before we went out. We weren't defenseless. And now that we know what goes on around here at night, we'll be able to stay even safer."

"That's what you thought last night, too, wasn't it?" Rupert shook his head. "Even then, with all your precautions, your friend Xander managed to get injured. Can you honestly tell me that won't happen again?"

William shrugged. "No, but--"

"William, tell me something. When you saw that Xander had been hurt, that he was bleeding and you had no idea how badly off he was...how did you feel?"

William blanched. He swallowed hard, his hands shaking as he brushed his hair out of his face. "I...I felt..." He struggled for words, finally admitting in a forlorn whisper, "It hurt."

Rupert reached out and pulled William to him. "How do you think I'd feel if anything happened to you?" he asked fiercely, holding William tight.

Shuddering, William wrapped his arms around his father. "I'm sorry, Da," he said miserably. "I didn't...I didn't think about..."

"Hush. I know." Rupert rocked his son tenderly. "I just want you safe, that's all."

They sat together in silence for a while, until finally William spoke up again. "Am I still in trouble?"

Rupert snorted. "Yes you are, young man."


Rupert gently set his son aside and reached for his glasses. He put them on and stood, arms crossed as stared at William thoughtfully.

"Are you...you're not going to thrash me...are you?"

Rupert winced at the slightly tremulous tone. "No. I'm not. However, you are grounded for a week." He held up a hand, ticking off each point on his fingers while he spoke. "That means no television, no phone calls, no going out with your friends. It also means that during your lunch and free period at school, you will come straight to the library to study. You will also come to the library after classes are done and wait for me to take you home. When you are home, you will either be in your room studying, in the living room studying, or at the table studying." He'd run out of fingers by now, but that didn't deter him in the least. "If you manage to run out of schoolwork, I'm sure I can find something else to keep you occupied. Do I make myself clear?"

William shut his mouth and nodded. "Yes, Da."

"I also expect you to be in bed, lights off, by 10:00. That goes for the weekend as well."

"Yes, Da."

"Once the week is over, I fully expect you to tell me explicitly where you and your friends intend to go. You will keep reasonable hours, and you will not, under any circumstances, go anywhere alone after dark. If necessary, I will come pick you up, or I will give your friends a ride home. Understood?"

"Yes, Da," William agreed.

"Good." Rupert gazed at his son, who was sitting miserably on the floor. "William, stand up." When he had done so, Rupert pulled him into a fierce hug. "I just want to keep you safe, son," he said in a suspiciously husky voice.

William hesitated a moment before burrowing into his father's embrace. "Are...are you still mad at me?"

Rupert sighed. "No, I'm not mad. But if I ever find out that you've lied to me again..."

William shook his head. "I won't. I promise."

"Well then." Rupert cleared his throat. Pulling away, he clapped William on the back. "Let's see about dinner then, shall we?"

Jesse caught up to William in the hallway. "Hey man, how'd it go with your dad? Were you, like, in major trouble?"

William brushed a lock of hair aside as he shrugged. "I'm grounded," he confessed.

"How long?"

"A week."

Jesse winced in sympathy. "Well, cheer up. That's not so bad. I mean, you've still got us! You and me and Willow and Xander can all hang here at school. We'll share your pain."

"We'd have to, um, 'hang' in the library. Da says that's where I have to go during lunch and free periods. After school, too."

Jesse cringed. "Ok, that's harsh." He shuddered, but smiled bravely. "I can handle it. Don't worry, we'll keep you company."

William offered Jesse a small grin. "He said I have to study while I'm there," he added.

There was a choking noise, and Jesse stopped to lean against a locker. His eyes bulged in horror as he stared at William. "Are you serious?"

William nodded.

"The whole time?"

He nodded again.

Jesse swallowed. "What about at home?"

"There, too."

His mouth gaped open for a moment before Jesse let out a gasping breath. "Dude. Your dad is evil."

Xander came up behind Jesse, Willow in tow. "Who's evil?"

Jesse let out a loud squeak at the question, whirling around to glare at Xander. "Would you not do that?! Geez!"

"Do what?" Xander looked at his friend in baffled innocence. He shrugged and transferred his gaze to William. "So? How'd it go with the parental unit?"

William smiled shyly at Xander. "Grounded for a week."

"Well, it could be worse," Willow piped up cheerfully.

"Worse?" Jesse asked, aghast. "It is worse. He's confined to the library and his place. And he has to study. The whole time!"

"What's so bad about that?" Willow frowned slightly in confusion.

Xander sighed and slung his arm around her shoulders. "Wills, we love you. You know that, right?"

"Well, of course I know that, silly! What's that got to do with studying?"

Jesse and Xander just shook their heads.

"What? Come on, guys!" She scowled at the boys as they continued to gaze at her in pity. "Stop it!"

Just then, the bell rang for class. William sighed. "I have to go," he told the others.

"Sure." Willow fixed Xander and Jesse with a stern look. "We'll come to the library to study...and to keep you from being too lonely. Won't we, guys?"

There was a moment of hesitation before Xander nodded. "Yeah, sure we will."

"But--" Jesse grunted when Xander elbowed him. "I mean, yeah. Wouldn't miss it." He grimaced.

"Ok. Um, See you later then." With a wave, William hurried off to his class.

"But it's math. Why are there letters in it anyway?!" Jesse scowled down at his Algebra textbook. "And my parents wonder why I'm failing this class. It's stupid! Who thought this stuff up?"

William glanced up from his own book and gave Jesse a sympathetic smile. He scooted his seat closer to the other boy and leaned over his shoulder. "Need help?"

"God, yes!" Jesse shoved the book towards him and pointed accusingly at the page of problems. "What, am I supped to be doing a word search here or something?"

William giggled softly. "Here, let me see." He studied the first problem. "All right, this is an easy one. What you're trying to do is get the numbers on one side of the equation and the letter on the other side."

"So, can't you just move 'em?"

"In a way. See, you have 4x/3+5=13. Now to get the 5 on the other side, you have to subtract it."

Jesse frowned. "Why?"

"Because five minus five is zero. That gets rid of it on the side with the letter. But you have to subtract from both sides, so thirteen minus five is..." he trailed off, looking at Jesse expectantly.

"Um...eight. So...that makes it 4x/3=8...right?"

"Exactly. Now, how do you get rid of the three?"

"Uh...it's under one of those slashy things so...you times it?"

William nodded. "Yes, you multiply both sides by three."

Jesse cocked his head and looked at the paper. "So then I'd have 4x=24. Oh! And then I divide, and have x=6. Is that what I'm supposed to have?"

William beamed. "Yes! See, the whole idea is to figure out what number the letter stands for."

Jesse blinked. "Well why didn't the teacher just say so?"

With a roll of his eyes, William directed Jesse's attention to the next problem. "Here, try another."

Xander peered up from the book he was pretending to read and watched as William guided Jesse through several more problems. A frown flitted across his face as he watched the two heads drift closer together. His leg jerked spasmodically when Jesse laughed quietly at something and reached up to brush a lock of William's hair behind his ear. No! He's not allowed to do that! Stop it!

Shaking his head to dispel that thought, Xander forcibly tore his eyes from the two boys. Determined not to think about why the scene upset him, he returned his attention back to not-reading his book.

Rupert groaned as he straightened up, stretching to work out the kink in his back. He looked at the clock and sighed. He hadn't intended to stay this late, but he'd found an entire section of books that had been horribly misfiled. Once he'd gotten started sorting them out, the project took on a life of its own and the hours had flown by.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he'd skipped lunch today. He did hope William had left him something for dinner. The few other times when he'd stayed late at the school William had -- good lord! William!

Dropping the book he held, he rushed out from the stacks, pulling up short at the sight that met him.

William and Xander sat alone at the table, pressed close together as they leafed through an oversized book. Rupert felt an indulgent smile creep across his face as he watched. He cleared his throat.

William looked up in distraction. "Oh, hello Da. Are you finished?" He tried not to notice that Xander had sprung away from him, scooting his chair away awkwardly.

"I'm afraid I lost track of time. I wasn't aware that is was so late. Where are the others?"

Xander let out a forced chuckle. "The pressure got too much for Jesse and he bailed after about an hour. Wills stuck around longer, but she had to be home by 5:30."

"Ah, I see. What about yourself? Didn't you have to get home?"

"Oh." Xander shrugged. "My parents don't care much where I am. As long as they don't get any calls from the police, I'm ok doing whatever."


William bit his lip, glancing at Xander out of the corner of his eye. "Um, Da? Can Xander stay for dinner with us?" He turned to Xander fully. "That is, if you want. You don't have to or anything," he added quickly.

Xander flushed a little and stared down at the table top. 'I...I wouldn't mind," he told the other boy in a soft voice.

William beamed. "So, is that ok, Da?"

Rupert frowned and removed his glasses, giving them a quick polish. "Well, you are still grounded," he reminded his son gently. At the utterly desolate expression that fell over William's face, he decided to relent a bit. "However, I don't see as it will harm anyone if he comes for dinner. Have the both of you finished your schoolwork?"

Both boys assured him that they had.

"Well then, I suppose we should be going. It's already starting to get dark. Xander, I'll drive you home after dinner, all right?"

"Sure, Mr. Giles." Xander and William grinned at each other, glad they were going to be able to spend more time together.

"So, how are your classes going, Xander?" Rupert asked as he delicately dissected his chicken with knife and fork.

"Well, they haven't kicked me out yet," Xander responded with a laugh. He picked up his own chicken and started nibbling on it, licking away the drips of grease that ran down his chin.

William stared at him unblinking. He finally tore his eyes away when his father cleared his throat. Looking down at his own helping of fried chicken, he smiled and looked up at Rupert with a gleam in his eyes. Forgoing the use of his own silverware, he picked up the chicken and took a large bite out of it.

Rupert rolled his eyes at this display but said nothing.

"This is really good, Mr. Giles," Xander said after hastily swallowing another bite. "Way better than take-out."

"Thank you, Xander. Cooking has always been something I enjoyed."

"Yeah, I could get used to this. I'm surprised Will's so skinny with food like this around all the time." He blinked. "Um, not that you're scrawny or anything, Will. More like...compact. I mean, you have a pretty nice...I'm just gonna shut up now." He blushed and stuffed his mouth with another large bite of chicken.

William smiled and blushed, averting his eyes from his father's knowing gaze.

"Thanks for the ride, Mr. Giles." Xander grinned at the older man as he opened the car door. A loud crash from the house made him pause, hand gripping tightly to the handle of the door.

Rupert looked from Xander to the house, then back to Xander again. Raised voices could clearly be heard cursing and hurling insults, and as they got louder, Xander shrank further back into his seat.

"I-I'll see you tomorrow I g-guess," he mumbled, edging slowly out of the car.

Rupert sighed and reached out, laying a hand on Xander's arm. "Xander," he started softly, "you don't...you're welcome to come back and stay the night with William and myself if you like."

Xander offered him a weak smile. "Thanks Mr. Giles, but I'll be fine. I just--" he flinched as the front window shattered and a toaster landed on the lawn.

Rupert leaned across Xander and pulled the door firmly shut. Without another word, he started the engine and backed out of the driveway.

After a long moment of silence, Xander spoke softly, "It's not always like that. Dad just drinks a lot sometimes."

Teeth gritted, Rupert forced himself to calmness. "Do you...that is to say...do they ever...hurt you?"

"No! They just...they yell a lot and fight. Mostly they just ignore me." He shrugged. "I have it better than a lot of kids," he said defensively.

"I see," Rupert voiced noncommittally.

The rest of the drive was finished in silence. When they arrived back at Rupert's apartment, he turned to his passenger. "Xander, if you ever need to just...get away for a bit, you're always welcome to come and visit with William. I'm sure he'd be delighted to have you over."

Xander gave him a tentative smile. "I'd like that, thanks."

William looked up from his book as his father returned. "Da, I got the dishes done and--Xander?"

"Hey." Xander waved.

"Xander will be staying the night again," Rupert informed his son before making his way to the hall closet and fetching some blankets.

"Oh." He looked at Xander in concern. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, well, the folks were having a kind of loud...discussion, and I didn't want to interrupt. Um, it's ok that I'm staying, right?"

"Of course! If you like, you may stay in my room. I'll take the couch."

"Oh, I don't want--"

"It's no bother. I'm smaller than you. The couch couldn't have been very comfortable last time." William grinned. "Even Da complained when he had to sleep on it a few times."

"Well, if you're sure..."


"Everything settled?" Rupert set the blankets on the sofa.

"Xander's going to take my room. I'll sleep out here."

"Good then. I'll be heading to bed. Sleep well, boys. You can stay up and talk for a bit, but I want you both in bed by 11:00. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

The boys watched him go, then Xander turned to William. "Your dad's pretty cool. You're lucky."

"Yeah. I know."


The touch on his shoulder barely penetrated Xander's sleep. It was nice, though. He pressed a little closer to the spot of warmth. "Mmmm."

"Xander?" The hand shook a little.

Xander sniffed. "Wazzt?"

"It's time to wake up. Da's getting breakfast ready; we'll be leaving for school in less than an hour."


There was a breathy laugh. "Xander!" came the whispered exclamation.

Xander opened his eyes and blinked sleepily. He smiled at the lovely blue-eyed angel hovering over him. He petted the hand still touching his shoulder. "Soft," he murmured.

Wil once more cursed his fair skin as he blushed faintly. Reluctantly, he withdrew his hand. "It's time to wake up," he repeated in a louder voice.

Xander yawned and levered himself up. He rubbed his eyes and stretched, twisting his neck until it popped faintly. "Wil?" He looked around, vaguely confused.

"You spent the night here, remember?"

Xander blinked some more, his eyes finally clearing. "Right. Sorry. Not too good in the morning."

Wil eyed Xander, sitting there in his rumpled t-shirt with just an inch or so of his belly showing, and bit back a comment that refuted that statement. "It's all right."

Xander sniffed the air. "Breakfast?" he asked hopefully. "Tell me that's breakfast," he pleaded with Wil.

Wil grinned. "It should be just about ready."

"Thank god. Did I tell you I really love your dad? He is deeply cool. Like, extremely."

Rupert picked that moment to walk up behind them. "Very kind of you to say so. Now get washed up. We do need to leave soon. Xander, would your friends mind staying after school today? I thought we might try and research these vampires and their 'harvest'."

"Can do. We can probably lure Jesse in with the promise of chocolate," Xander said with a chuckle.


Wil nudged Xander. "I'm going to get a drink. Would you like something?"

Xander smiled. "No thanks, I'm good."

"Ok." Wil shoved his chair way from the table, nearly upsetting the stack of books balanced precariously beside him. "I'll be back in just a moment."

Xander nodded and turned his head a little, watching Wil cross the room and go out the doors.

Abruptly realizing what he had done, Xander checked quickly to see if anyone had noticed where his attention had been. When he saw that no one was watching, he forced his eyes back to the book in front of him. After a minute, he groaned and closed the heavy volume with a thud, raising a small cloud of dust. "Nothing in this one," he choked out, waving the dust away from his face.

"I'm coming up blank, too," Willow said. "How 'bout you, Jesse?"

"Hmm?" Jesse flipped a page, intent on the book he was browsing through.

"Jesse?" Willow craned her neck to see what Jesse was studying so intently. "Did you find something?"

"Yeah, sure. Be with you in a sec," came the absent reply. Another page was turned, then flipped back as Jesse seemed to compare the pages.

Willow managed to catch a glimpse of what Jesse was looking at, and she turned pink. "Jesse!"

Jesse slammed his book shut and bolted up in his chair. "What?! I wasn't doing anything!"

"I saw those pictures, mister! What do you think you're doing?" Hands on hips, Willow fixed her friend with a very stern glare.

"He gave me the book!" Jesse protested, pointing an accusing finger at Rupert. "I was just looking like he said!"

"There were naked people in that book!"

"Naked? What?" Xander leaned forward in his seat. "Who's naked?"

"I was researching! It's not my fault!"

Rupert cleared his throat. "Perhaps I should take charge of that particular book. I'm sure there are more...suitable volumes for you to study." He turned away from the computer he was trying to do research on and held out his hand.

Still giving Jesse a frosty look, Willow grabbed the book away from him and took it to Rupert. "We'll have no more of that sort of thing, understand?" She narrowed her eyes further.

Jesse sighed and slumped down in his seat. "Yeah," he agreed sullenly. Once Willow's attention was off him, he glanced at Xander. "Just when I found a book I could enjoy," he said with a half-grin playing about his lips.

Xander snickered. "Only you could manage to find nudie pictures while doing boring research in a musty library."

Jesse shrugged, his grin turning into a full-fledged smirk. "Yeah, well, it's a talent." He folded his hands behind his head and tipped his chair back on its hind legs, stretching out in what was supposed to be a suave manner.

After a moment of suitably appreciative silence, Xander asked, "Was there anything good?"

"Eh, not bad. Half-naked chicks, mostly-naked guys. Orgies. That sort of thing." He eyed his friend carefully.

At the mention of the mostly-naked guys, Xander flushed a little and glanced away. "Oh, really?" He was proud that the squeak in his voice was barely detectable.

"Not to interrupt what I'm sure is a fascinating conversation, but I did manage to find a short piece on this 'Harvest' affair," Rupert interjected drolly.

Both boys immediately pasted on attentive expressions.

"Enlighten us, oh wise one," Xander intoned formally.

Rupert raised an eyebrow, but went on, "It seems to be some preordained massacre; rivers of blood, hell on earth. Quite...charmless, really."

"Oh." Willow swallowed weakly, her eyes huge. "Ummm...was there anything about how to stop it? Maybe?"

"Unfortunately, it was a bit fuzzy on the details." Rupert scowled at the computer as it beeped loudly at him. "Infernal machine," he muttered, tapping a few keys. Nothing happened, and he glared harder. "Could any one of you possibly manage to wrest some information from this contraption?" he finally asked when his glare provoked no response from the computer.

He glanced up when no one answered, finding himself the subject of three confused stares. His lips quirked. "Can someone get on the Net?" he clarified.

Willow beamed, bouncing in her seat. "Oooh! Me! I can do that!" She took Rupert's place at the computer and began typing quickly.

Wil returned just then and took his seat at the table. He looked at Jesse, then at Xander. "Did I miss something?" he asked.

"Nah," Jesse replied flippantly. "Orgies, harvest, massacres, bloodbath, the usual."

"I...see. How fascinating." He resolved never to leave the room during a research session again. It was too confusing.

"Isn't it though?"

Willow walked down the hallway, flanked by Xander and Wil. She consulted the checklist she carried. "Ok, murder, death, disaster. What else?"

Wil thought a moment. "Paranormal, unexplained, did you get natural disasters?"

Willow nodded. "Earthquake, flood." She made a notation next to them on her list.

"Rain of Toads," Xander offered.


Xander grinned "Rain of Toads! Do you think they'd have that on the Internet somewhere?"

Willow grinned at him. "I'll put it on the search engine. If there's something online, it'll turn up. Anything that'll lead us to vampires."

"Do I want to know how a rain of toad leads to thoughts of vampires?" Wil questioned hesitantly.

"You'll understand when you've lived here for a while," Xander told him. "Trust me, a rain of toads is not a fun thing. Very squishy. Lots of 'splat'."

Wil shuddered. "I have no desire to know."

"Good plan."

The three of them stopped walking outside of their classroom.

"This is seriously weird. A couple weeks ago, our lives were like, 'Uh-oh, pop quiz.' Now it's 'Rain of Toads'." Xander shook his head in bemusement.

Wil looked around at the crowded hallway. "Everyone else thinks it's just a normal day."

"Exactly! Nobody knows what's going on right under their noses. It's like we've got this big secret."

Willow blinked and cocked her head as she looked at Xander. "We do. That's what a secret is, when you know something other guys don't."

"Heh. Um, right."

Willow giggled. "We should get to class. Oh! Jesse has a lunch detention with Mr. Gerard, and I'm helping Ms. Watson tutor some of her Science students. You two gonna be ok for lunch?"

"Sure thing, Wills. We can hang in the library together." Xander draped his arm over Wil's shoulder and tugged him close. "We'll do some male bondage. Bonding! Male bonding!" He coughed, flustered, and very carefully pulled his arm away from Wil.

"Um. Right." Willow eyed him with concern. "Ok. Well then. Class." She nodded firmly and walked into the classroom.